Two Worlds AHead

There is a neuroanatomist, someone who studies the physical functioning of our brains, by the name of Jill Bolte Taylor. In 1996 she had a stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. Being a brain scientist, she was able to watch herself as the stroke was impacting on her ability to function and her perception of reality. She already knew that our brains are made up of two very distinct halves, one which she describes as a parallel processor, and the other a serial processor. The parallel, on the right, can take in a more holistic picture, while the serial on the left is restricted to a more pedantic A then B then C, etc. These two are totally separate except for a small cable of nerve cells that connect them at the centre bottom.

As the bleeding expanded, her left-brain skills faded and she began to perceive reality only through the right side of her brain. If you watch her TED talk, at this point she goes into a totally different voice.
‘It’s very big, totally peaceful, so beautiful! … There’s no clear boundary between my arm and the energy around it. … I’m seeing myself from the outside.’

You can feel that she has accessed a different world from the work-a-day space that is the only one that most people know.

Then her left-brain snaps back into operation and her individual self, rational and logical, starts protesting:
We’re in trouble, you’ve got to do something. Get help!

But not long after, the left side goes off line again, and once more she’s in
‘Nirvana! Oh, so peaceful, so connected. If everyone could be here, the world would be a different place.’

Then it’s back getting help. I haven’t got time for a stroke!

As the process continues, she suddenly feels herself expand into the world of energy around her. She feels
‘like a genie, let out of her bottle. How could I ever fit back into that little body again?!’

Jill’s ‘stroke of insight’ alerts us to the fact that there are two worlds with in our head, both physically grounded there and accessible. So why do so few people know about the second of these two worlds?

I remember when I was a child, there was a cartoon on the TV, part of a series called ‘Fractured Fairy-tales’. In one episode, there’s an investigation into a crime. The detective is interrogating everyone, looking for the facts. He encounters the fairy godmother. When he finds out who she is, he says,
‘I don’t believe in you, you’re not real!’
She makes an indignant exclamation, ‘well, I never!’ and, poof!, disappears.
Even as a child, it occurred to me that this is what has happened to an entire aspect of reality – people stopped believing in it, and now they can’t see it. But that doesn’t mean it not there.

What have we lost in letting science tell us that this other world isn’t real? Obviously having a rational self has been very useful in functioning in the world, getting on with life, – inventing things that are destroying the planet.
Would we be inventing things that are destroying the planet if we knew very clearly that we are destroying part of our selves? That’s just one consideration.

Being an individual, separate self is a very vulnerable place to be. Bodies are quite susceptible to sudden death, incapacitating damage, pain, loneliness, fear. I could go on. If we have no personal experience of being intimately connected not only with the world around us, but with each and every other, there is no antidote to a terrifying loneliness. This can be warded off with tons of friends, close-knit family, all manner of distractions. But behind it all is a dread fear of being alone.

The other thing that gets lost with no sense of connectedness to everyone else is social justice. ‘Do unto others’, ‘love others as yourself’ become meaningless and foolish. It’s ‘every man for himself, devil take the hind most’ that is the sensible approach to others. If someone else isn’t as able or lucky or wealthy – tough luck! Hurry up and die. Be quick about it.

The only meaning in life is the accumulation of things. Eat, drink, drink, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. And that’s the end of it. There’s nothing outside of what science tells us is real. Once you’re dead, that’s that end of you. To hell with the rest of them.

But, if you allow yourself to access the other half of your brain, you will have a powerful experience of being embraced by the universe. This vastly enriches your life, and helps you understand that you are one with all that is. Whatever you do to others you do to yourself. Losing this perspective has led, gradually over the centuries, to a myopic, cruel, and foolish approach to living and dying. Taking time to reconnect with this disappeared part of reality will change you and the world, one person at a time.

The Power of Story

So what’s the story? That’s the greeting someone will often be met with if they’re being asked to explain an unlikely or offensive event. The questioner is half expecting some sort of spin on the facts that’s going to get the one in hot water off the hook. We know that events can be told from many points of view, and not always from one that is easily given credence.

To address the problem of stories, problematic from a scientist’s point of view, Stan Sorscher recently wrote an article entitled “Why Physicists Don’t Rule the World”. In it he comes to grips with the power of stories for human beings, something for which he had previously had very little time. Being a good scientist, he even cites research which demonstrates that stories move people in ways that facts don’t. Crucially, at the end of his article, he points out that

Leaders will use a good story to be effective, because that’s its great power over human behavior. We can all also apply critical thinking to look through a good story to see the reality carried within it. That’s our great responsibility.

Since this is one of the main points of my book, I’d like to expand on this theme. It is our most important responsibility to look critically at the stories we use to give meaning to our life. The difficulty often times is that we don’t even realize that we are using stories. We are blind to the narrative that underlies our day-to-day activities. As it has been through the millennia of human existence, our stories are generally a collective affair; that is, we have taken on board a story that is programed into us at an early age by those around us. The current crunch is that now there are a number of stories being used, but those using them, when they aren’t aware that they are stories, insist that only theirs is the true one. Much fighting and acrimony ensues.

This is just as true of scientists as it is of followers of various religions. Each person is convinced of the truth of their story, and considers any other story to be inadequate at best, or deceptive at worst. So how do we deal with this vexatious issue without taking sides, or eliminating our ability to deal competently with physical reality? I would like to suggest a shift of how we use the word “truth”.

When dealing with facts related to the physical world, why not use the word “accurate”? Anyone using measuring instruments can record the accuracy of facts in the physical world. How long is your foot? How deep is the pool? What are the temperatures recorded at a specific place at a specific time? How much money does a person or family have? How many species have ceased to exist in the past year? How much has the volume of ice at the poles decreased in the past year? All these things are measurable and recordable. What is important is that they are accurate and can be demonstrated to be so. Facts are not a matter of opinion. Just because you don’t like them doesn’t mean they are not accurate, though you do need to be clear about what exactly you are measuring.

There are some measuring devices which can be used deceptively. Statistics are the best example of this. The percentage or ratio of one thing to another can easily be manipulated by using a small sample upon which to base your percentage, or by choosing aspects of a population and their numbers that don’t accurately reflect the overall picture that you are claiming to  represent. But generally, assuming a person has not been restricted by a biased understanding of the topic, measurements can be confirmed by anyone else who undertakes the same measuring activity.

On the other hand, “truth” is something that deals with intangibles – beliefs, opinions, stories, philosophies, meaning. Truth can be understood to be those things that can’t be measured physically, but which have huge power to shape our lives and our world. This is characteristic of things like history, in which a story is told that is true according to the observer. With modern recording equipment, we can sometimes ascertain if someone did or did not say something or had ever met someone or been some place. (Though with tricks of technology even this once dependable witness is no longer so.) But the truth of a situation can often vary according to a person’s belief about the world and how it functions. Our opinions can change when our beliefs are impacted by personal experience or incontrovertible facts. Philosophies go in and out of popularity to the extent that they seem credible or useful to most people at a given time.

Thus truth has assumptions, biases, and values upon which it is based. This is why the challenge to critically examine these shaping parameters is so important. There is no such thing as an impartial truth in the same sense that there are accurate facts. We need to look at who gains from something offered to us as a truth. Who does it privilege, who does it cast in an unfavourable light? What does it ask us to assume, and how do those assumptions limit our understanding of reality? What kind of world does it promote – one built on love or one promoting fear?

With this distinction, it will be easier to see the difference between facts we work with, and our beliefs. If something can’t be physically measured, then it is a belief, not a fact. Being willing to acknowledge that many things dear to your heart are a matter of belief, not of fact, is difficult for any true believer to deal with. Whether your world view is based on the conviction that death is the end, that there is nothing after this, or that there is an afterlife of varying description, it isn’t based on measurable facts. Consciousness is something that no one has yet defined or figured out. So what happens to consciousness after the body dies is a matter of belief. Fighting over beliefs is less than useful. We believe what works for us; we change our belief if something ceases to work for us.

So what is the meaning of your life? Facts aren’t meaning, though we can provide them with meaning according to our overall world view. If you don’t think your life has a meaning, that is the story that you use to make sense of your life. If you are aware of the story that gives your life meaning, have you looked at it to see where it is taking you?




How Do We Know Who or What to Believe?

There have always been snake oil salesmen, convincing us that they have just the thing to cure what ails us. We have been trained over lifetimes to take in advertising with very little questioning. We use social media, which has now been proven to contain not only the obvious ads, but also content to manipulate us in every direction, including our choice of leaders. Most recently, computers are being used to construct videos of public figures speaking, and saying things that they have never said. And before ever there was advertising, there were preachers of religions, philosophies, edicts of empires, medical practices, scientific theories, etc.

When we look back over the various “truths” that were proffered, some by very sincere people of good will, and others by unscrupulous, self-serving money grabbers or pursuers of political power, we can see that very little of what was said to be the truth was, or still is thought to be so. The use of computer generated media has now brought us to a crisis point, leaving us feeling like we can never be sure as to the veracity of what we are seeing or hearing. We are cowed into frozen skepticism, unable to trust our eyes and ears.

So how can we find our way in this world of smoke and mirrors? One option might be to follow only those who have demonstrated trustworthiness over a significant period of time. But even here, genuine people have been caught out by deceptive sources. Many people tend to go with what they already think to be the truth, disregarding any evidence that doesn’t confirm what they already believe. This condemns them to being stuck in points of view that are unnecessarily limiting or self-injurious.

I think the short answer is that skepticism is the safest approach. It would be important, however, to choose a few topics that are most important to you, and research them in depth over multiple sources. This takes time and effort, but if you are to take up your adult responsibility to act justly, then you need to educate yourself as best you can about issues that are important to you.

Otherwise, there is the very old wise question: Whom does the Grail serve? What this is urging us to look at is, if what is being said is true, who will benefit from it being accepted as true? For example, if there is a study that says that sugar is good for you, that would benefit the sellers of sugar and sugary products. If it not true, it would hurt ordinary people. The question therefore is, who funded the study? If people who are dis-empowered are painted in very negative terms, those already in power are the ones to benefit. It supports bullies, the very rich, and those who need to feel superior, leaving deprived members of a society more and more oppressed.

A big contributor today to deception and manipulation is what is not said. The phenomenon of the  “half truth” is an illustration of this. You are told that, on average, more people are living longer. What you might not be told is that those living longer are those in the upper 25% of the population economically, whereas those in the lower 50% are dying at a younger age. The other major contributor to “fake news” is what the mainstream media never bothers to report on at all. Crucial information such as, “How much more money, percentage wise, do the top 1% have as compared to everyone else?” “How many people in other countries has the US military and its “auxiliaries” killed in the past year?” “Who are the biggest funders of the re-election campaigns of those in Congress?” This information is important for understanding what is true with regard to who controls our world and who is responsible for the injustice that fuels terrorism.

Another important thing you can do to help yourself navigate the swamp of information out there is to learn how to be self-reflective. Registering when your autopilot reactions to certain subjects has been provoked is crucial to avoid being manipulated. If you are not self-aware and able to sense when your emotions have been hijacked to get you to believe something that may not be true, then you are much more likely to be deceived. This is a process that also takes time and effort. It requires us to acknowledge our shortcomings and blind spots. If a person suffers from low self-esteem, then an ad that tells you “you are worth it” is very effective in separating you from your money. Self-awareness is fundamental to your being able to discern where you are vulnerable to false claims.

We live in a time of unprecedented lying, deception, misleading statements, and manipulation. Each of us must work hard to deal with this attack on credibility from all angles. There are no easy answers, but with effort, we can begin to sort the wheat from the chaff.


A Spirituality of Disdain and Entitlement

Earlier this week, I viewed a Book TV presentation by Nancy MacLean speaking about her book, Democracy in Chains ( My cousin recommended it to me. I had just sent him a link to an AlterNet article about how and why the US media news reports have changed over the past 30 years, ‘What the News Won’t Tell You about the News’ ( We help keep one another up on important information.

Nancy MacLean’s book documents how libertarians, and later neoliberals, gradually developed an approach to the meaning of life that holds that people need the ‘liberty’ to sink or swim. The meaning of this word in their minds is that if you succeed financially in the world, then you take care of yourself. If you don’t succeed in this way, then you have to make do with whatever happens. If you get sick and can’t afford medical treatment, well, that’s all part of your ‘freedom’. If you inherit a lot of money, and become the CEO of a corporation, you can be paid millions of dollars per year, and that’s part of your freedom to take care of yourself.

There are a number of assumptions in this libertarian spirituality. One is that you are free to work hard enough to succeed, therefore if you don’t succeed, it’s your own fault for being lazy or not a superior person. If you can’t work, say because you’re disabled physically or intellectually, then, in a true ‘survival of the fittest’ spirit, you should be allowed to die. It’s a hyper competitive, ‘every man for himself, devil take the hindmost’ ethos. It suits men more than women, because they can work harder and don’t have to deal with childbearing or child care.

Another assumption is that hard work pays equally well for all people. The obvious falsity of this can be demonstrated by looking at the hourly wage for manual labour verses sales or financial services. Further, a capitalist system depends on having an excess of labour for the number of jobs available. Without this, labour could demand a better wage because there would be competition for labourers. Globalization has pitted people across the planet against each other for a decreasing number of jobs.  The rapid increase of robotic assembly lines has further devalued human labour and disappeared jobs that formerly were plentiful. There simply are not enough jobs to go around, especially at a living wage.

Disdain for those who don’t succeed financially, is then coupled with a sense of entitlement and exceptionalism. No matter what advantages they have had over others, those who do succeed are entitled to all the power, prestige, and privilege they can accrue. This is the approach to life that informs the recent ‘health reform’ bills that have narrowly been defeated in the US Senate. The super wealthy pay for the political campaigns of the senators, who are then expected to pass legislation to make the super-rich even wealthier, at the expense of everyone else.

As I was listening to Nancy talk about what she had discovered in the papers of one of the main economic theorists who developed this approach to life, it gave me a new appreciation for why Spirituality: A User’s Guide is an important book at this time in history. Hearing about a spirituality based on disdain for the vast majority of human beings (and the planet), and promoting the power of a select few, was a splash of cold water to my awareness. It has been obvious that greed is heavily practiced in the world today. But to learn that such a destructive philosophy is being aggressively pursued by a powerful segment of the financial elite revealed a level of self-indulgence and hatred for others that is deeply disturbing.

Promoting a spirituality based on love may at first glance appear to be unremarkable. Isn’t that what we all agree on, even if we don’t manage to perform from this motive all the time? What we are learning is that the people in charge of the financial world don’t agree with love as a basic principle of life. That’s why it is so important that each person begins to consciously look at what are the underlying principles reflected in their own approach to life. Through the media, many have been educated into an exploitative dynamic with regard to others, rather than one based on love. If you want a world which promotes mutual respect, care for the less well off, equality before the law, and a sustainable approach to the planet, you need to wake up and work for a government for the people, not by the wealthy for the wealthy.

Ireland at a Crossroads (a brief talk given at the book launch)

I grew up during the ‘60s in the US, that great time of revolution and social change. Many social institutions were being challenged, most with good reason. One of the primary institutions under scrutiny was religion, especially Christianity. The many hypocrisies of its leaders and the betrayals of its founder were very obvious. The lack of credibility of many of its dogmas due to the development of knowledge over the centuries further undermined the its validity. Textual criticism, the ability to analyse a book and see how it was put together from many different sources and times, was particularly good at calling into question the accuracy of many Biblical claims. And so the Church began to lose followers, especially among people in my generation.

There were a number of alternatives based on the message of Jesus that were put forward, but these were rejected, especially by the Roman Catholic Church. It was their way or the highway. So, off many people set on the highway, sans religion. This did not seem to be a problem for that group on their journey. It wasn’t until the next generation came along, that signs of danger began to surface. Dubbed the ‘Jesus movement’, many young people were being recruited by Christian fundamentalists as well as other cults.

Young people are vulnerable to such recruitment because they are seeking an identity. This is a normal part of human development. But if they are coming from homes with insufficient emotional support, such as working parents too busy to take time with them, or abuse or neglect, then a religion which promises them belonging, forgiveness, salvation, and power is an irresistible magnet, drawing them in like hapless iron filings. The result of this movement in the US, which started in the 1980s, is now on display for the world to see.

I would suggest that Ireland is at a similar point in its spiritual development today. The Irish Church has disgraced and discredited itself in many ways. The number of people who go to church regularly, who take the hierarchy seriously in their pronouncements, or who deeply believe any of the Christian message are relatively few, especially among the current younger generation. This is simply a fact of life. Whether you like it or you don’t, doesn’t matter. What does matter is the response that is made to this state of affairs.

If we simply ignore it, then a strong possibility is that missionary movements, of which there are already a few in the country, will come and do the same thing that they did in the US. Fundamentalist churches and preachers are extremely well funded. This is because they facilitate the power of the superrich and their multinational corporations. It is in their interests to promote a population who will not challenge them in their exploitation of a country or the planet. The sole focus is on being saved and following the rules of the church, no matter how oppressive and bizarre they might be. The history of Roman Catholicism in Ireland is a good example of how people will follow the most irrational of rules if they think that their salvation depends on it. The ritual of ‘churching’ in which a woman, who has given birth was made ritually clean from the impurity of that event, is a good example.

Another alternative is that coming generations will simply uncritically adopt the identity of consumers. This was on display during the years of the Celtic tiger. Conspicuous consumption was all the rage. People competed for the fanciest house, the greatest number of houses, the most lavish holidays, the most expensive schools for their children, etc. This left many people in very precarious predicaments when the crash hit. They had been lured with the marketing line – ‘you are under borrowed’ – and ended up losing their home rather than enjoying the prosperity promised them. This has resulted, as designed, in the upward rush of money to the financial elites.

What is at stake here is how we identify ourselves. What do we believe in? What is the point in living? What does it mean to be a psychologically healthy human being? When the time of our death arrives, what will provide us with a sense of a life well-lived? How do you answer these questions for yourself?

It is just these sorts of questions that I have addressed in Spirituality: A User’s Guide. In my own journey to answer these sorts of questions, I found myself drawn to ways of healing my inner emotional pain. We are fortunate to have discovered effective ways to understand and heal emotional pain in the past 20 to 30 years. Not surprisingly, it’s all about love. Being loved, loving others, reducing our fear, and helping others and the environment to be loved as well, is, I would suggest, what it’s all about. Believing in love is the basis for a belief system, but constructing that system is a whole other task.

Let’s look at some aspects of a spiritual story. If we don’t believe in heaven and hell, then what sort of story do we tell ourselves about what happens when we die? Some people are able to be content with the thought that that’ll be it – end of story. But for many people, this is a depressing and scary thought. Thus, it does not meet the criteria for a psychologically healthy spiritual story for them. And since there is no way to know for sure what does happen when we die, then it’s important to use a story that works for you.

If we want our children to get ahead in life, how does that influence the way we treat everyone else’s children? Is it ‘me and mine’ first and devil take the hindmost? Or do we try to set up social policies that make sure that as many people as possible enjoy the greatest benefit? What’s our attitude to those who amass huge amounts of money? Do we admire them and want to be like them, or do we see them as parasites on society? What do our heroes look like? Do we make friends with the powerful, the local lords, or do we work for an inclusive society with transparent workings of power?

If you have children, what do you say to them about who you are or what the meaning of life is? Or do you just ignore this topic, relegating it to the dark press where other topics like sex are hidden? Of course children are very astute, so what you say won’t make nearly as much difference as what you do. Do you spend every waking moment pursuing more and more, or do you prioritize spending time with them in an emotionally nurturing way? Do you allow them to demand all the latest gadgets as seen on TV, or do you help them to see how they are being manipulated and show them where the real value of life is to be found?

Obviously, the construction of a psychologically healthy spirituality, spiritual story, or meaning of life is a huge task. But we are not the first to do so. It has been done many times, over and over. Sometimes the outcome worked really well, while in other situations it was eventually abandoned as unsatisfactory or destructive. Looking at what has been done previously, especially the most recent effort in the West, Christianity, but other efforts as well, can be very useful. Take the best and leave the rest!

I review this history in the book. Jesus was essentially about social justice – love your neighbour as you love your self; do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Buddhism has honed meditation techniques that are essential to being a whole human being. The overdevelopment of the rational mind has disappeared other levels of reality, levels needed to balance out the obsessions and other limitations of the rational mind. The stories of the first peoples, sometimes called Natives or Aboriginals, prioritize stewardship of the earth. They lived and thrived for thousands and thousands of years. After less than 300 years of the Industrial Revolution, we are rapidly making the planet unliveable for human life as well as destroying many other species. Developmental psychology has convincingly outlined what it means to love infants, children, ourselves. What many people think is loving has been shown to be anything but. Quantum physics has demonstrated that we can’t have access to absolutes, so there’s no point in insisting that we have the absolute, god-given truth. What we need is a story that is personally workable, and which tolerates everyone else’s story. Stories that don’t tolerate other versions are psychologically unhealthy.

However, we need more than intellectual tools for constructing our spiritual story. We also need experience. The more years of diverse experience upon which we have reflected compassionately, the truer we will be to life as it is lived by as many people as possible. But there is also an internal type of experience which is central to our task. We need to connect with the other side of our minds, the non-rational part. This is best done through meditation, mindfulness being one of the best avenues for this journey.

Modern society is so thoroughly biased towards the rational, scientific world view, that this other side of our mind is either thought not to exist, or seen as a more primitive, useless aspect. It is not. It is that part of ourselves that connects us with all that is. It is accessible to each one of us, though it takes effort to escape the grasp of our rational mind. When you do come into contact with this energy, it provides you with a perspective that cannot otherwise be gained. Some have called it ‘the still point in the turning world’, the constant motion of the rational mind having been left behind. In this stillness, we know that we are one with the entire universe. Without this awareness, any spiritual story will be incomplete, sectarian, and setting up a ‘them and us’ version of reality.

In summary, what we need for a healthy spirituality is a workable story that allows us to sustain human life and the planet. I am asking you this evening to look at the importance of addressing this task. I have written this book to help you with it. It is based on my personal experience as well as the accumulated wisdom of what I found to be the most effective and useful knowledge currently available. I am not telling you what to believe or what your story ought to be. But I am pointing out that IF your story is not based on love, the practical, hard-work type, not the romantic ideal, then you may find it contributes to the problems of Ireland and the world today rather than taking you and us to a better place.

Why Meditate?

In Spirituality: A User’s Guide on several occasions I urge the reader to meditate. I want to expand on that admonition now. Meditation is hard work. It takes lots of discipline, persistence, and courage. It takes you closer to your pain when you could just ignore it or distract yourself. It takes time, when you could be watching a screen somewhere near you or interacting with your kids or friends. It can seem so futile, as your mind rabbits on about everything and anything.

So is it worth the effort? Everyone who has persisted gives this question an unequivocal ‘yes!’ Let me try to put more words on why this is the case. Our world is extremely left brained dominant; that is, rational thinking is the only mode valued, promoted, and generally accepted. But rational thinking, while useful for problem solving applications, is very limited otherwise, often draining of our energy when used inappropriately, and easily manipulated whether by our internal distress or external forces.

When we are feeling anxious, distressed, or otherwise insecure, our rational mind takes it upon itself to try to solve the problem. It wants to know, ‘what did I do wrong?’, ‘why am I always making a mess of things?’, ‘where is the next bit of danger coming from?’, etc. You no doubt have your own list of go to questions for tormenting yourself. If asked in a calm, focused way, some of this analytical mindset can be useful, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. It’s the washing machine effect, of going round and round in circles that wears us out, a total waste of time and energy. The only healthy solution is to notice what is going on, and to make the effort to refocus on something else, like your breath, or the feel of your environment, or a repeated word. (The unhealthy solutions are mentioned in my blog post on escape.) In this way, you refuse to let your rational mind control you in an irrational way. It can’t solve these sorts of problems, but it hates to give up!

It takes a fair amount of practice over time to get better at taking back control of your consciousness from obsessive thinking. Even in the short term it does help to settle your nerves and remind you that the rat on the wheel is going nowhere. But once you do get more space in your head, you give yourself the possibility of experiencing the other part of your mind – the expanded part. Unless you get free of the rational mind, you can’t access this wonderful and energizing state of being. The transition from one aspect to the other generally isn’t instantaneous. It takes at least a few minutes to gradually sense the glimmer of something other than the presence of words or fear.

It is notoriously difficult to try to describe this other experience, because words are the tool of the rational mind. So this effort will have something of that old adage about five blind people trying to describe an elephant. They each have hold of a different part of the beast; each is accurate, but none grasp the full picture. It is only the experiential being there that can know that, but it is beyond words. Here are the aspects that I notice as I am transiting into that part of me.

Most of the time, I notice that my body starts to relax a bit more – around the eyes, the jaw, the breathing, the shoulders. Then I feel my mind slow down and sort of expand. This expansion reflects the movement into the volume of the universe, all that is. This is quite palpable. You’ll recognize it if you’ve ever had a mind-expanding insight. As the rational mind fades, and as you allow the other side to inform your awareness, you may notice a warmth or a flow of energy in your body. A sense of peace ensues, and you feel like you could be with that for a long time. But the rational mind isn’t to be pushed aside quite so deftly and before you know it, there’s a thought and you’ve been hijacked! But not to worry, just let the thoughts go and return to the peace. This takes practice, and if your fear is too ingrained in your body, you may need to deal with it before you can maintain your dwelling in this other side of your being.

Once you have begun to access this other part of your consciousness, it’s very helpful in dealing with the challenges of life. It provides you with strength, love, and peace. It is your still point in a chaotic world that lets you stay focused on being true to who you are while responding creatively to those around you and the wider world. Without this sort of inner resource, life can be overwhelming. I started trying to meditate when I was 19, and I thank my lucky stars that I did. The younger you start, the better. But it’s never too late to begin!


More than any other motivation, escape is the driver of our modern world. Everyone wants to get away, zone out, be entertained, disappear into a screen nearby. Why is this? What makes our lives so intolerable that we have to get away constantly? People talk about the pressures of modern life, jobs that don’t satisfy, debts that are never finally paid, distress that seems unending, family conflict for generations, emptiness that can’t be filled. The solution for all these is to escape – into a drink, a drug, compulsive behaviors, 24/7 news, computer games, holidays, screens, sports, novels – distractions that leave us feeling even worse when they eventually peter out.

Sitting still without activity, being alone with our self, getting the rational mind to let go of rabbiting on – all of these are seen as a fate worse than death. We have to keep moving, doing, achieving, meeting goals. Are we having fun yet? But what are we missing by not being able to be in the moment, alone with our distress, engaging with the depths of our being?

In olden days, before the invention of electricity and modern conveniences, it wasn’t really possible for a person to live on their own. Being part of a collective – a large, extended family, a wealthy household, a religious community – was necessary for basic survival. One person simply couldn’t do everything that was needed to sustain life. Each person had their place and it was amongst many other people. Being alone for any length of time just wasn’t sustainable. Hermits never lived that far from a village; anchorites always lived in the midst of a community whether religious or secular. People just didn’t even think about living alone and generally didn’t see it as desirable.

But now a days, it is quite possible, with sufficient income, to live on your own. There is still plenty of social contact if you work for a company of any sort, though the option of working from home via the internet has lessened even that opportunity for interpersonal interaction. Slowly, as we spend more and more time on screens, we have less and less direct human contact. We are escaping into a virtual world that is sterile and inhuman. Escape doesn’t seem to be working. We just have to work harder at finding ways to shield ourselves from the underlying pain.

I have found after meditating for many decades, and learning more about the potential of my inner world from the experience of people like Jill Bolte Taylor, John Kabat Zinn, and Carl Jung, that there is an alternative to escape. There is another aspect to my psyche that has only recently been recognized to be what is missing in our left brain dominant world. It is a primarily non-verbal, vibrant energy that is and isn’t me (in the ego sense of that word). As I sit still, gradually insisting that the rational mind let go of its chatter, there tentatively emerges an experience of energy that provides solace and a sense of peace over time. This energy engenders a feeling of love, timelessness, and healing. It doesn’t solve the left brain’s problems, but it does provide an alternative experience of reality that sustains me in a way nothing else does. My rational mind is constantly trying to bring me away from it, but it is always there, the wholeness of me. It is in you as well. It takes time and effort to slowly dethrone the rational mind, but it is the only way to open to the other side of your self. I recommend it to you.

And with this new-found wholeness of self, we will find ourselves naturally returning to human contact. It will still take awareness and perspective to truly meet others where they live. But with an experience of stillness, we have a better chance of being patient with others, of meeting them where they live rather than needing them to meet our needs. Hell is other people only when we live in our own internal hell. Find the universe within you, and the world will be transformed.

Why this cover?

SAUG cover 300 x 199 pixelsWhat goes on the cover of a book is one of the crucial decisions any author makes. It has to grab the viewer immediately as well as conveying a fairly accurate idea of what the book is about. My book ranges over so many topics, some of them very complex and others somewhat abstract. I was at a loss as to where to go with a cover until one of my readers suggested that it is very much about the journey. That resonated well, so I proceeded to trawl through thousands of stock photos on the internet to find something that felt right. I had no definite idea what I was looking for when I started apart from views of paths and remote roads. I trusted that somehow it would become clear to me as I clicked along patiently. A pattern emerged of photos that felt right. They included an image of a sunlit path going forward, leading into murky areas which give way in the distance to light and beauty.

For me this very much captures the journey of life. There are times of relative clarity. Inevitably things go downhill and I begin to wonder if I’ve taken a wrong turn. I struggle on and after a greater or lesser amount of time, things gradually ease up. This cycle repeats, which is why the saying that the journey is the destination captures a basic wisdom.

I was in college when I first discovered the great pleasure of walking and talking. Villanova has a green campus, which makes such walking all the more congenial. Toronto has a great system of parks and walks, which relieve the hard surfaces of city streets. Walking in West Africa was only done in the morning or late afternoon, but the scent of tropical trees and flowers was intoxicating.

Through the years, I have continued to savor the many hours that I have spent walking with friends, discussing the meaning of life, exploring our understanding of the flow of our lives, and witnessing the beauty of Nature encountered. Now that I live in Wicklow, the ‘Garden County’ of Ireland, walking has taken on an even greater satisfaction. It is a hilly county, and hillwalking is a very popular pastime. Gear for the Irish weather is a basic requirement, but there’s as much time spent taking in the spectacular views as there is talking.

So this cover on my book very much captures the enthusiasm for walking that has enlivened my inner journey. And hopefully the book itself will give you many topics of conversation for talking and walking with others as you travel the road of  your own search for the meaning in and of your life.


While there is much useful and valid information in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Anger: Buddhist Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, it is missing something.  That something is an understanding of the role the body plays in our anger. Like so many approaches, it hasn’t yet integrated what we have learned about the physiology of anger. This discovery has come through the research done on the effects of trauma. The many wars of the 20th century (and still continuing into the 21st) have overwhelmed the healing professions with people who have been seriously affected by violence. This appalling legacy of traumatized individuals has demanded that we come to a better understanding of what is involved in this type of wounding.

What we have learned is that the body has developed its own methods for responding to threat.  It wants to either fight, flee, or collapse/freeze.  If it doesn’t do at least one of these things, it can’t let go of the feeling that something awful is about to happen. This feeling then haunts the person, generating waves of anxiety, anger, compulsion, and/or obsession.  There is a relentless driving energy that doesn’t allow us to rest peacefully.  This energy is held in the brainstem, and mediated by the sympathetic nervous system.  Eventually we are worn out with the effort of being angry, driven, worried, apprehensive, or scared. At that point the body collapses, the parasympathetic nervous system taking over and shifting to inaction.  This is the biological basis of depression, exhaustion, apathy, and sadness.

Most importantly, we have discovered that there is only one way to communicate to the brainstem – that is through the body. It is the oldest, most primitive part of the brain.  The other two parts, the limbic system and the cerebral cortex, are not wired directly to the brainstem.  This means that no matter how much we feel, emote, cry, or even laugh, there is nothing getting through to where the trauma is held. Likewise, no matter how much we analyse, observe mindfully, or change how we think about what happened (assuming we remember what it was), can we release the trauma from our body. Fortunately, the actual solution is much simpler than any of the above. We simply have to imagine ourselves back in the original event, and then push it, run away from it, or allow ourselves to collapse and stop fighting with it. These are the basic movements the body has developed over millions of years.  When these are done in a safe space, the body is then able to release this stuck energy. We don’t even have to remember what it was that scared us.  We simply feel the fear and then respond with an action of successful defence.

Having learned about trauma from wars has also helped us to identify it in people who have been traumatized in other ways besides wars.  We can now see that there are many sources of trauma in our lives.  It is much more common than most people are aware. Crucially, we have come to see that the younger a person is, the more easily they are traumatized.  An infant has very different needs to an adult. But if those needs are not met, they can quite easily die. Infants don’t perceive danger if someone with a gun walks into the room.  Rather, if someone screams at them, or their mother ignores them, or someone shakes them so their head moves in an unsupported way, they experience immense threat. It is not mediated by thinking.  It is a felt sense that their need for safety and holding has been violated. This is not something we will remember as adults, but it will just as surely leave us feeling afraid or anxious.

Before we release the energy of trauma from our body, however, it is really important that we not allow past events to control our behaviour in the present moment. This can be very difficult to do if we are not conscious of the energy that feeds our anger, anxiety, fear, or depression. So becoming mindful of ourselves is crucial to acting responsibly in the present moment. If we are only on autopilot, we don’t notice that our behaviour is making our life worse rather than helping us love ourselves and those around us.

First blog post

This is the blog I am starting as part of publishing my first book in Ireland, Spirituality: A User’s Guide. This book has been many years in the writing, and it’s exciting to see it finally being published.  It reflects the accumulation of knowledge, insights, opinions, and wisdom that I have come to during my six plus decades of life. As you will see from the autobiographical material in the book, and from what I will blog here, my life has never been dull.  I have lived on three continents, had two distinct careers, and am now embarking on a third.

Through all that time, my journey has been deeply informed by the guiding light of love’s priority.  Loving myself and loving others, not in a romantic way, but in deep and practical ways has been the red thread through the warp and woof of my choices and interactions. From early on, I discovered that psychotherapy is the process that most powerfully fosters and deepens one’s ability to love, and to heal the wounds that prevent one being compassionate, empathetic, and courageous in the way of love. Thus I have participated in that process for many years of my life, both as client and therapist.

Initially, I had been inspired by the religion I was born into, Roman Catholicism. My parents were devout people. Most importantly, Vatican II happened in the second half of my grade school years, nicely timed to bring excitement and exploration into things spiritual as I started high school and on into college. But obviously the world has moved on in a myriad of ways since the 1960s and ’70s. Both Roman Catholicism and Christianity no longer hold credibility for a lot of people who used to profess that faith.

Some of the loss of adherents has been related to the activities of the institutions themselves.  Not only the rampant sexual abuse, but the added disgrace of denying and hiding it, has put people off in droves. Even beyond that, however, the cosmology and the soteriology (how ‘salvation’ is understood) of the Judeo-Christian story are now seen as incompatible with a modern understanding of the universe and a love-based picture of the divine.

So on this blog I would hope that others would share not only their responses to what I have written, but also put words on how they make meaning in their own life.  My book will be live on the web and in bookstores in Ireland by September 2017 at the latest. In the meantime, I will gradually add to this blog.  Let me know what you like hearing about and feel free to ask questions.